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World heritage status eyed for Steveston

Steveston would join heritage ranks that include the Great Wall of China and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia if a bid to add the fishing village to UNESCO’s World Heritage List succeeds.  - Richard Lam photo
Steveston would join heritage ranks that include the Great Wall of China and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia if a bid to add the fishing village to UNESCO’s World Heritage List succeeds.
— image credit: Richard Lam photo

There are 981 around the world, and just 17 in Canada. Now city officials are probing the possibility of Steveston Village joining the United Nations’ World Heritage List.

Steveston resident Loren Slye, who lobbed the idea at a city council committee that later called for the study, believes the designation would offer the village new heritage protection.

“We have to protect—for our children—the community, the environment and heritage aspects that we have. UNESCO would help do that,” said Slye, 64.

The list, maintained by a United Nations agency known as UNESCO, or United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is a collection of places around the world with cultural or natural significance. Globally it includes the Egyptian Pyramids, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Great Wall of China.

Once a site is named to the list, “its protection and preservation become a concern of the international world heritage community as a whole,” according to the UNESCO website.

Eight of Canada’s sites are cultural, nine are natural. Just one is in B.C.: SGang Gwaay, an island of the Haida Gwaii and the site of 19th century village ruins.

Slye acknowledges achieving the status for Steveston will be a challenge.

“If it ain’t hard, it ain’t worth doing. This isn’t going to be a cake walk; we may never get it. But the reality is the simple fact of fighting for it is going to generate a whole bunch of interest, and the spinoffs to that will be tremendous to the community as well.”

Slye is working on the proposal through the Steveston 20/20 group—a collection of community organizations—and said there is plenty of local support.

“We are the largest commercial fishing port in Canada now. Not so much that we’ve grown, it’s that the others have shrunk. Fishing will always be the heart and soul of our community, but in order for Steveston to survive, we need to look at our heritage and culture for tourism, and getting that designation would help with the tourism side of things.”

Slye makes a point of travelling to UNESCO heritage sites, and said a recent visit to one in Croatia—the Old City of Dubrovnik—”reinvigorated” him to go after a designation for Steveston. Dubrovnik was largely destroyed by war in the 1990s, but it later became the focus of a major restoration program led by UNESCO. It’s now a top destination for tourists.

Another B.C. community is already vying for the honour. Heritage advocates near Prince Rupert want the North Pacific Cannery in Port Edward—a town with a population of 544—added to the elite list.

In Steveston some heritage buildings are protected, but there’s no such protection for the entire village. In 2009 the city rolled out the Steveston Village Conservation Strategy, which shields some structures and village elements from change by requiring property owners to obtain a heritage alteration permit before making exterior modifications.

Coun. Bill McNulty, the city’s planning committee chair, said the UNESCO designation would raise awareness of Steveston’s historical significance.

“Very few people know the history of Steveston. They think it’s a nice quaint little fishing village,” he said. “When you look at it historically, we’re significant.”

McNulty pointed to historical milestones of the village, including 1890 when it joined Victoria as a port of entry to B.C., and a time when 42 canneries operated in Richmond at the peak of the fishing industry. Recent decades have brought much change to the village, but McNulty believes enough history remains to warrant heritage status.

“We need to tell people the history behind the post office. We need to tell people the history behind the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. We’ve not embellished the treasures that we’ve got.”

World Heritage List sites in Canada

Cultural

•Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (1981)

•Historic District of Old Québec (1985)

•Landscape of Grand Pré (2012)

•L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (1978)

•Old Town Lunenburg (1995)

•Red Bay Basque Whaling Station (2013)

•Rideau Canal (2007)

•SGang Gwaay (1981)

Natural

•Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (1984)

•Dinosaur Provincial Park (1979)

•Gros Morne National Park (1987)

•Joggins Fossil Cliffs (2008)

•Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek (1979)

•Miguasha National Park (1999)

•Nahanni National Park (1978)

•Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (1995)

•Wood Buffalo National Park (1983)

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